June 18, 2006

Trivialising the holocaust?

This is a guest post from a holocaust survivor living and working in Germany.
Wrong time, Wrong Place, Wrong Battle

The World Cup is not the place to demonstrate against Iran, and the Iranian soccer team is not the right address for a protest.

Not enough that some members of the German Jewish Community - and its newly elected leader - brought politics into the World Cup before the Iranian soccer game in Nürmberg last week, they are gathering their forces again today to demonstrate before the game in Frankfurt. The fact that 1,000 persons protest and the media writes that “Germans and Jews protest” is unfair to the millions of Germans who are hospitable hosts to all the athletes, and the 100,000 Jews who are not protesting.

Before the fact, some of the Jewish media, and especially the bloggers, were totally hysterical about the fact that Iran was allowed to play in the World Cup, citing "international protests", for which there is no evidence, calling the Iranians Nazis, and the rest of the usual blah blah that is used to incite and intimidate.

There was even a rather provocative piece in The Observer by Luke Harding, about Iran's team facing "mass protests" and "senior politicians" also quoting Charlotte Knoblauch saying Ahmadinejad should be arrested if he came to Germany. The German media has stayed out of the fray, intimidated into silence on the subject of Israel.

The demonstration in Munich, led by politicians whose motives can be explained in terms of their own ambitions, had talk show host and former Jewish Community vice president Michel Friedman - who plummeted from grace two years ago when he was caught in a prostitution and cocaine sting, and has been clawing his way back ever since - calling Iran's president Ahmadinejad "the Hitler of the 21st Century" to a small crowd of cheering supporters. He didn’t say “could become” or “is potentially”, which one could almost accept as a concept, even if finding it personally ridiculous. He was speaking to the cameras and to inflame the crowd. There is nothing like a Hitler comparison for eliciting outrage these days.

As a Holocaust survivor and someone who has studied the Holocaust extensively, I am more than allergic to all these ignorant Hitler comparisons that are meant to incite. Every banal comparison to Hitler takes the magnitude of horror of the Holocaust another notch lower and the uniqueness to the ordinary.

The atmosphere in Germany during these two weeks of World Cup competition has been really fantastic. Except for one night of some rioting after the Poland Germany game, it has been a huge peaceful and friendly party. The authorities bend over backwards to accommodate the thousands of fans that have descended on Germany, and a number of heads of state have come to cheer their teams on and left with a feeling of having been welcome. Ahmadinejad has already stated that he had no plans to come.
Considering the news that has come out of Israel in the past two weeks about the murder of an entire family on the beach of Gaza, and the fact that a former Israeli Prime Minister Menachen Begin was the architect of the assassination attempt on German Chancellor Adenauer in 1952, and the fact that Israel has held 44 asylum seeking Africans in jail without warrants for two months, would seem that those NOT protesting may have the moral upper hand. Athletes should be respected for the job they have come to do and not be made responsible for what the politicians say – or do – for reasons of their very own.

Note: At the playing of the national anthems at beginning of the game, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the ZDF TV Announcer say that if the Iranian hymn can be sung without any disparagement and interference, it will be a winning game. And there was no booing to be heard, to which he commented that this game can now begin without political interference.

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